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Biden pushes vaccines, not more restrictions as omicron variant spreads

President Biden speaks to media as he arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,  on Sunday after returning from Nantucket, Mass., after spending the Thanksgiving holiday there.
Carolyn Kaster
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President Biden speaks to media as he arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Sunday after returning from Nantucket, Mass., after spending the Thanksgiving holiday there.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday morning that there were still no cases of the variant identified in the U.S. but that it was “inevitable” that it would make its way into the country.

Updated November 29, 2021 at 9 AM ET
President Joe Biden will urge Americans to get vaccinated and to receive a booster shot, as he seeks to quell concerns over the newly identified COVID-19 variant named omicron.

But the president won't immediately push for more restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

On ABC’s “Good Morning America on Monday, Fauci said that there were as yet still no cases of the variant identified in the U.S. but that it was “inevitable” that it would make its way into the country.

Fauci said scientists hope to know in the next week or two how well the existing COVID-19 vaccines protect against the variant and how dangerous it is compared to earlier strains.

Pharmaceutical companies are already tweaking their existing COVID-19 vaccines to better attack the omicron variant.

Biden is expected to deliver remarks on the new variant at the White House on Monday.

As more cases of the omicron variant are revealed around the world, Biden was briefed Sunday by his COVID-19 response team, including Fauci, his chief medical adviser.

The variant has already been identified in cases in Botswana, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Israel, the Netherlands, Australia and Hong Kong.

Scientists are not certain where the variant originated, but the mutations of the virus were first identified by scientists in South Africa and the World Health Organization deemed it a "variant of concern" on Friday, given its already rapid spread.

More cases have been revealed in Europe, Australia and Canada

The Netherlands identified 13 cases of the variant and Australia confirmed two cases, on Saturday, marking an even wider spread to other regions of the world. On Sunday, Canada announced it had detected two cases of the new variant.

The cases in the Netherlands came from passengers on a flight coming back from South Africa, where 61 of the passengers aboard tested positive for COVID-19. The two cases in Australia came from passengers arriving from southern Africa, but it was not specified which country or countries they were returning from.

Nations close their borders to southern African countries

The United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Israel, the European Union have already announced they have restricted travel from South Africa and several other countries in the region, though the World Health Organization has cautioned against imposing travel bans at this time.

More countries, including Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Saudi Arabia have also implemented travel restrictions.

On Saturday, the U.K. announced stricter travel measures for all travelers. Now, a PCR test is required for anyone coming into the country by the end of the second day of arrival. Anyone who is a close contact of someone who tests positive for the omicron variant has to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.

Germany also announced new measures that anyone coming in from South Africa would have to quarantine for 14 days.

Portuguese authorities were investigating whether some of the infections there could be among the first reported cases of local transmission of the variant outside of southern Africa.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.